It’s been nearly a year since I started taking Spanish lessons and during this time I’ve done a lot of cheating in order to keep my conversations going without too much umming and ahing while I try and find the right word or work out a conjugation in my head.

One of these cheats is to use necesito (I need to..) or es necesario que (It’s necessary that…) when talking about things that I need to do or things that need to be done in general. I don’t think the Spanish really use these two expressions, but it’s been easy for me to remember and people always understood what I meant so it’s done well for me.

Another very good cheat for beginners is to use tener que to form tengo que (I have to), tienes que (you have to), tenemos que (we have to) etc. I’ve also been using this expression of late, but I decided to do some investigating and to broaden my vocabulary with regard to all the things we have to do. After all, I’m now living in the EU and there are loads of regulations with regard to all the things we have to do, or may not do, so I reckon it’s useful to know the lingo.

How to say that a particular person has to do it (eg. I have to do it or she has to do it).
tener que

+ infinitive

Tengo que ir a casa.   (I have to go home).
deber Debo ir a casa.   (I must go home).
How to say that something has to be done in general. (eg. it should be done or it must be done).
hay que

+ infinitive

Hay que proteger el medio ambiente. (The environment must be protected).
se tiene que Se tiene que reciclar más. (More recycling should be done.
se debe Se deben usar más productos reciclados. (More recycled products must be used).
es preciso Es preciso informar a los ciudadanos. (It’s essential to inform citizens).


These expressions can also be used in the negative to talk about things that should not be done:

  • No debemos malgastar el agua. (We mustn’t waste water.)
  • No se deben tirar papeles al suelo. (Wrappers must not be dropped on the ground.)

Note that deber and tener que change to the plural form when the direct object (the thing that’s being talked about) is in the plural:

  •  Se deben reciclar las bolsas.                        Bags must be recycled.
  • Se tendrían que cambiar las normas.       The regulations should be changed.

There are more phrases that can be used to express obligation and duty, but they’re more obscure and quite advanced so I’ll learn them some other day. These will do for now and I hope you find them as useful and I do. All I have to do now is to remember how to use them…


Have you ordered your copy of The Cooking Pot – Spanish / English Reader yet?  It’s a brilliant book!

Go to for more information.